The Creator slips into cinemas without any fanfare, for a fraction of the cost of bigger-bucks movies, and knocks them out of the park. Its creator is British director Gareth Edwards who knows a thing or two about helming superior sci-fi on a budget (Monsters, 2010). And about making a mark in a stellar series (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).
Alighting on the trending topic of artificial intelligence, The Creator sees Joshua, ex-special forces, grieving the loss of his wife, recruited to take down the designer of an AI superweapon that threatens mankind. Set in the near future, AI developed in ‘New Asia’ has seemingly turned against humanity. Los Angeles is hit by a bomb. America has declared war on the digital creations who used to serve us. But don’t all creatures deserve to live?
The trailer foretells it, the new weapon is a child. Fused, as many of the AI creatures have been, with human DNA, Alphie is growing as a person and in power. She can already control the electro-environment wherever she is. Is Joshua her protector or destroyer?
Beautiful and visually inventive, The Creator reflects Edwards’ influences – Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now and the spiritually infused Baraka. The battle sequences are brilliantly shot, mostly in daylight and with clarity aforethought, bucking the trend for murky action. John David Washington (Tenet), Denzel’s son, credibly conveys Joshua’s dilemma, capable and conflicted. Ken Watanabe (Edwards’ Godzilla) adds class, as the AI’s warrior leader.
The world-building belies the limited funds. Fabulously rendered, the film exudes believability. Some AI creations have human faces, some have projectors or games-stations for heads. Outsized tanks, guns blazing, are chunkily real - although no match for a playful monkey in one cute scene. And the Americans’ bird-of-prey sky-platform, patrolling the Earth for signs of AI, rings true.
Pacy and punchy, The Creator’s also full of heart, thanks mainly to six-year-old newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles, mesmerising as Alphie - ethereal, funny, real. The film’s pulse is hers. Its head is less engaged. AI: Artificial Intelligence, Blade Runner, and its sequel, all mused about the implications of AI. In The Creator, it’s a scenario for a story about love, family and spirituality. And the values of tolerance and trust.
From its title to its characters’ names (Joshua and Alphie, from Alpha), from the girl's prayerful pose when using her powers to the Dalai Lama-like mountaintop setting and the monk-like attire of her followers, it’s unembarrassed to evoke religious themes. Neither will go to heaven, Alphie tells Joshua, because “you’re not good, and I’m not a person”.
AI was the enemy in Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, faceless, sinister, our own silly fault. Here, though, the tone is more hopeful: AI has the face of a child who needs and offers protection.
The Creator’s a thoroughly refreshing film. Some narrative slips aside, it does enough that’s new and does it with visual panache, edge-of-seat action and tons of heart. And in an age of production-line, carbon-copy creations, that’s something to celebrate.